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Lolo seeks opinion on legality of payouts to previous admin

fili@samoanews.com

A legal opinion from the Attorney General has been sought by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga on a Senate Government Operations Committee report recommending “further investigation” into payouts to political appointees and elected officials from the previous administration, possibly to recoup any taxpayer funds expended for the payments.
 
The committee’s report was sent to the governor late September this year, following hearings on the close to $1 million in monetary payouts made by the previous administration to elected officials — including the former governor and lieutenant governor — as well as outgoing directors and employees.
 
Committee chairman Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli informed the governor that in many instances, it appears these payouts were “inappropriate and contrary to law”.
 
Responding to Samoa News inquiries regarding the status of the committee’s report and recommendation, Lolo’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said the governor has  referred the report to the “Attorney General for a … legal opinion on whether these payments were legally supported by any prevailing law.”
 
“Subsequent actions to be pursued by the Governor will predicate on the Attorney General’s legal opinion. If the the payouts were illegal, actions will be taken to recoup the government's funds,” he said over the weekend.
 
In the report, Galeai said the committee referred this issue to the Executive Branch “for further investigation for compliance with the law, and importantly, recoupment of any funds expended, which were paid but not in compliance with the law.” He cited provisions of local law that prompted this conclusion by the committee.
 
Galeai told Samoa News yesterday that he has received a number of public inquiries as to the status of its report to the Lolo administration and “I have informed these individuals that the matter is with the Executive Branch, which is the proper authority to review and take action.”
 
“This issue of payouts is something that cannot be swept under the rug. We all took an oath of office to uphold the law,” said Galeai, in a brief phone interview. “This is a glaring violation of our laws and should be pursued by the Attorney General’s Office.”
 
“This is taxpayer’s money used for these payouts to people who are not even entitled to receive them and should be recouped by the government,” he said. “My concern is that we shouldn’t set a bad example for the future of our government by making payouts that are not in accordance with the law.”
 
During the hearings, Galeai had insisted that the governor and lieutenant governor are not entitled to accrual of annual or sick leave; and cabinet directors, who received overtime pay should return that money because they are also not entitled to overtime pay under the law.
 
According to the payout report, former Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s final check was $39,406 and the final check for former Lt. Gov. Faoa Aitofele Sunia was $34,812. Both elected officials received annual leave and sick leave.
 
ASG officials of the previous administration testified last year during budget hearings —when the payouts first surfaced — that directors along with the governor and lieutenant governor are entitled to sick and annual leave.



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